Thailand’s private ownership of lions raises safety concerns

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

The private ownership of wild animals, notably lions, has come under scrutiny in Thailand following several incidents where these creatures were observed in public areas. The issue has sparked widespread concern among the public regarding safety and animal welfare.

The first case surfaced in January when a lion cub was noticed in the backseat of a fancy convertible in Pattaya. Simultaneously, another cub was spotted wandering in a residential area in Bang Lamung district, Chon Buri. An investigation into the latter incident revealed that two 10-month-old lion cubs were being kept in a home.

Days later, two more cubs, aged nine months and two months respectively, were found in distressing conditions in a café on Sukhumvit Soi 4. Another cub was confiscated from a Phuket hotel room on February 14.

The authorities, on learning about these incidents, swiftly seized the animals and pressed charges against the owners, which included illegal possession of wild animals, keeping protected wildlife without permission, and moving wild animals without appropriate documentation.

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The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has 67 wild animals on its controlled list under the Preserved and Protected Wildlife Law. Lions are one of the ten deemed dangerous, along with animals like the Bornean orangutan, green anaconda, chimpanzee, Sumatran orangutan, jaguar, cheetah, gorilla, mountain gorilla, and dwarf chimpanzee. Trade of these animals is permitted only by licensed farms.

The law does allow private individuals and zoos to import or possess dangerous animals, but they must adhere to specific rules and regulations. Any individual holding a controlled animal must inform the authorities and secure permission. Permits are granted only after ensuring the holders can provide good living conditions for the animals, by animal welfare norms, and guarantee public safety.

Lion ownership

Prasert Sornsathapornkul, the director of the Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division, stated that many wild animal owners lack a proper understanding of the law. He emphasised that while the law permits possession of such animals, it is crucial to maintain a safe habitat that doesn’t jeopardise or disrupt the community.

The department’s records show that 223 lions are owned by 37 individuals across the country. The inspection process is expected to conclude by March, which may provide a clearer perspective on dealing with this issue. Prasert also noted that owning lions has become a status symbol among the wealthy due to the animals’ high value, with prices exceeding 100,000 baht (US$2,783), reported Bangkok Post.

However, concerns have been raised about the possibility of wildlife crimes, such as the sale of lion skin, sex organs, and teeth. Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), has urged the department to reject individual ownership of lions. He warned of potential issues in the future where owners, unable to care for the animals, may abandon them with the department, leading to a misuse of taxpayers’ money. He also discovered a pig farm in Chachoengsao province that kept more than ten lions, raising suspicions about their intended trade.

In related news, Thai police and wildlife officers launched a manhunt for a lion cub used for tourism in Phuket. Legal proceedings ensued as authorities investigated the cub’s ownership and transportation.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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